SFU graduate Gareth Wasylynko (third from left) is a global intern working on a community sustainability initiative in Durban South Africa, and one of 40 who are part of SFU's Sustainable Cities International Internship Program.

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Graduates apply skills to improve communities as global interns

November 22, 2016
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SFU graduates are working to improve communities and lives abroad, through an internship program that enables Canadian students who’ve completed their degrees to gain work experience while making a global impact.

Funded by the International Youth Internship Program (IYIP), SFU’s Sustainable Cities International Internship program provides opportunities for newly graduated students to apply their skills in community projects underway in South Africa, Tanzania, Senegal, Bolivia and Mexico. IYIP receives funding from Global Affairs Canada through the national Youth Employment Strategy.

The Faculty of Environment program, supported by SFU’s Centre for Sustainable Community Development (CSCD), began last November and runs until March 2017. So far, 40 SFU graduates have become international interns.

Program co-lead Gretchen Ferguson, an associate director with the CSCD, says the program empowers graduates seeking to make a difference and exemplifies SFU's commitment to international community engagement and sustainability. 

SFU graduates Bhavina Patel and Gareth Wasylynko are currently in South Africa working on community sustainability initiatives in Durban’s eThekwini Municipality, the city’s largest employer, and recently shared their experiences.

What attracted you to this initiative?

BP: I was keen to look into food security and gain experience in the field in another part of the world. This was the perfect opportunity for me to learn and experience projects that are actually working towards food security, in places where it is a major challenge to the population. While here, I’ve also learned the importance of job creation and economic opportunities that farming can provide for much of the rural population, who already farm for subsistence.

GW: I was drawn to the program to gain work experience in city planning and for the opportunity to live abroad. My impression is that the professional environment for city planning in Canada often requires a master’s degree to get your foot in the door for work experience. So, the opportunity to get into a planning office right away, albeit in a foreign country and on a short term basis, was very appealing.

What is your role in the community?

BP: My position is with the city’s economic development and investment promotions unit. The unit focuses on skills development and job creation by supporting and funding new market and industry initiatives. I work closely with the agribusiness and waste material recovery programs manager, one of the many passionate individuals pushing Durban towards a green, circular economy.  I spend most of my time working on projects and attending city meetings and conferences.

GW: I work at the municipality's environmental planning and climate protection department (EPCPD), specifically its restoration ecology branch. The EPCPD encompasses four branches with about 50-60 employees while the restoration ecology branch consists of seven staff (including myself). My day-to-day work interfaces primarily with the other staffers and external organizations. 

What have you learned during your stay?

BP: In terms of what is happening in the field with IYIP, it’s very much a fully immersive experience for an intern to work with the eThekwini municipality. The municipality is the largest employer in Durban, over 20,000 people work for the city. That being said, I have met many people and had some great exposure to how the city works and its various initiatives, and how it plans on becoming “Africa’s most caring and livable city” by 2030.

GW: I’ve been involved in creating a business plan for a program called Working for Ecosystems (WFE). WFE is a government program funded and managed by eThekwini but implemented by the NGO Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA). WFE creates jobs and manages priority ecological areas through hiring the unemployed in some of eThekwini's rural factions with little access to formal economic opportunities. Funded as a hybrid job creation scheme that controls the spread of invasive alien plants (IAPs), these workers are given a substantial level of paid training and are equipped to go out to field sites (typically owned by eThekwini) to remove, by hand or tool, priority invasive species. 

Related stories (Nov. 24, 2015):

 SFU’s new International Youth Internships Program offers experiential learning abroad